7-Eleven at the Fifa World Cup: outnumbered in Hong Kong, the Poles find cold comfort against Japan
Poland joining Germany on the plane home from Russia but their fans in Hong Kong can take pride, at least, after beating Japan
“Poland will meet Germany after the group stages,” the Polish consul general tells me. “At the airport.”
Mirolsaw “Mirek” Adamcyzk is in good spirits for a football fan watching his side play in what is a meaningless game as they have already gone out of the World Cup after just two matches.
The joke, he says, came from a Mexican friend, although they no longer have to tell it considering they have made it through the group stages.
We’re at the Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui to watch Poland play Japan, an event put together by Jakub Lewandowski, who works at the hotel, and the Polish consulate in Hong Kong.
“I will be wearing No 9 obviously, family name coincidence,” Lewandowski messages me on my way in, warning there might not be the biggest of crowds as Poland had already gone out.
“But at least you should be able to see a few white and red jerseys,” he adds.
Not that Lewandowski - maybe a better one. Top time with the Polish fans in the Mira in TST pic.twitter.com/fPqSSS6W2n
— Jonathan White (@jmawhite) June 28, 2018
And we did. Lewandowski was there, name on the back as promised, as was a shirt with “Adamczyk” on the shoulders.
There was one more shirt, Patrick’s, a man who would later prove to be a dab hand with an iPhone and proof that Amazonia sounds the same in Polish as it does in English.
Poland may be out – and outnumbered by 11 to seven by Japanese fans in the bar – but they would not go home unbowed.
We talk about the failings of the team and a coach who was named young player of the tournament at the 1978 World Cup in his heyday but unable to deliver now he is in charge.
This is a Polish team that are, presumably not for long, ranked eighth on the Fifa World Rankings – the third best in Europe going into the World Cup, Mirek says with disbelief.
Poland’s own heyday predates that of their coach, according to the consul. The best team he has ever seen was the 1974 World Cup squad, one that was robbed by a second round of group stages from reaching the final.
They lost to West Germany thanks to a Gerd Muller goal, before their victors went on to defeat the Netherlands in the final. But they did beat Brazil in the third-place playoff.
It was a similar story in Spain in 1982, Mirek says, a tournament that lives in the memory for more than the football.
On the day the Soviets declared martial law in Poland to quell Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement, the national team beat Belgium 3-0 with Zbigniew Boniek scoring a hat-trick, just days before the side played out a goalless draw with their overlords.
Boniek, regarded by many as Poland’s greatest player, was in the same school as the consul, a few years apart. While he could not prevent losing to Italy in the semis – serial scorer Paolo Rossi proving the difference this time – he had brought joy to a small corner of Poland.
This is the Polish Consul in Hong Kong. A gent, a proper football fan and a suffer of fools. Great night watching the game with him. pic.twitter.com/fe3nuOhsCV
— Jonathan White (@jmawhite) June 28, 2018
Boniek’s later career has seen him become a politician but we’re here to talk about football, even if the consul’s time in Hong Kong may be coming to an end.
Zawisza Bydgoszcz was where Boniek started his career, the hometown club of Mirek. Despite winning the Polish Cup as recently as 2014, they have fallen foul of finance and dropped to the eighth and lowest tier of Polish football.
Finances are not the only problem for football in Poland. “Speedway,” both Mirek and Lewandowski tell me, is the most popular sport in the country, playing out to crowds of 20,000 across the country while football fans fail to make it through the gate. Volleyball, handball and ski jumping also eat into the crowds.
The magnificent seven in the Mira watch Poland salvage pride with a 1-0 win thanks to Southampton’s young Jan Bednarek, one of the few players to not be described as old or past it.
Poland had expected and the knives are out back home for the coach and the players. Japan went through – on fair play.
Fair play to the Japanese fans then who came over at the final whistle to respectfully celebrate and commiserate in equal measure – for some reason everyone was fine.
As Lewandowksi said before the game started, “Tonight we’re drinking Asahi”.